Wither: Chemical Garden Trilogy, #1 -- Lauren DeStefano

Wither I love this cover -- the colors are unusual, the dramatic makeup on the model reflects some of the descriptions in the book, and the visual link between the wedding ring and the caged bird is really nice. (Also, the pink lines are shiny! Or they are on the ARC, anyway.)

The back cover copy, however, begins with "In the not-too-distant future", which always brings this to mind. Which probably wasn't what S&S was going for, but it's not like their target audience will have the same reaction as me, so whatever.

From Wither:

Before I can process what's happening, Deirdre has opened her hands and Linden has taken the ring from her and slipped it onto my finger. "Rhine Ashby," he says. "My wife."

It doesn't mean anything, I tell myself. Let him call me his wife, but once I'm on the other side of the fence, this silly little ring will mean nothing. I am still Rhine Ellery. I try to let this thought sink in, but I've broken into a cold sweat. My heart feels heavy. Linden catches my eyes with his, and I meet his stare. I won't blush or flinch or look away. I won't succumb.

The man in white says, "What fate has brought together, let no man tear asunder."

Fate, I think, is a thief.

A few generations from now, the world has completely changed. Due to an unforeseen glitch of genetic engineering, males only live until age twenty-five and females only live until age twenty*. Young women are kidnapped by Gatherers, who sell them to rich families to be forced into polygamous marriages in an attempt to keep the species alive**.

Oh, also? World War III wiped out everyone except North America***.

Sixteen-year-old Rhine Ellery -- she of the Heterochromatic Eyes -- is kidnapped and forced to marry 21-year-old Linden Ashby. Unlike her sister wives -- one who's content to live the rest of her life in plush captivity, the other orphanage-raised to be a wife -- the moment she's kidnapped, she begins trying to plan an escape.

As time passes, though, she grows ever-more sympathetic towards her husband and sister wives, causing her to almost forget why she wants to leave this world of opulence and ease. It's only the thought of her twin brother -- and her attraction to a servant-boy who's no more free than she is -- that keeps her grounded and alert. And if she's going to escape, she's got to do it soon: Not only because she wants to live her four last years in freedom, but because the situation at the Ashby compound is much more darkly dangerous than it first appears...

Considering the fact that I'm suffering from Dystopia Burnout -- and I'm even more tired of series fiction than I am of dystopias -- I enjoyed Wither a whole lot more than I'd have expected. While Lauren DeStefano's prose didn't stand out like, say, Franny Billingsley's does, it's competent. (That sounds like I'm Damning It With Faint Praise, but I'm really not -- I just mean that while it didn't have me doing Joyful Cartwheels, it also didn't cause any Nose Wrinkling.)

The story and dialogue both flowed well, and while I had some problems suspending my disbelief in regards to Rhine's world, the ways in which the characters responded to their world felt right. Along the same lines, some of the characters weren't particularly well-developed, but the interactions and relationships between them -- especially the three sister wives -- were believable. While the elder Ashby -- Linden's father -- was a One-Note Villain, he was satisfyingly, subtly**** Bad News. The only relationship that didn't really work for me was the one between Rhine and Gabriel, her Secret Servant Love Interest. Not because I didn't believe in their attraction -- that was certainly there -- but because her relationship with Linden was so much more complicated and interesting.

It's not one that has inspired me to Boss People Into Reading It, but I'll certainly read the second book when it comes out, and it's very definitely one that'll appeal to fans of paranormal romance... even though it's not a paranormal romance*****. Weird, that.


*Which I thought was strange, since women naturally have a longer life expectancy than men. I'm probably thinking about this too much.

**Supposedly. Although it seems to me that if they were really trying to keep the species alive, they'd focus more on trying to find people who hadn't been affected by the genetic engineering, rather than just throwing random girls at sickly rich guys. But I digress.

***Well, according to what our heroine knows. But I think it's a tad unlikely that that's the case, especially given that this is the first in a trilogy. While I was reading, I kept thinking that she'd get over the fence and it would be like The Handmaid's Tale all over again, but I'm not going to get all spoiler-y before the book even comes out, right?

****At least from Rhine's perspective. I rather suspect that Jenna's version of events would have sounded very different.

*****It does (I think) fall into the Captured Heroine Romance subgenre, though it is thankfully (SPOILER-ish!) not rape-y. Although, I guess, heck -- The Blue Sword could be described the same way. Weird.



Sister Wife (polygamy)
One billion other dystopian YA books.


Book source: Review copy from the publisher.